Welcome to WDYT Thursday, a periodic post in which I pick a discussion topic and ask you what you think.
I've recently read a couple of (few?) YA books that reminded me a lot of other books. And in thinking about that, I've realized that my opinions about similarities in books are ... complicated. Here are some thoughts:
Some say that there are no original ideas left out there. That everything is a remix.
An author says he feels like another author stole the plot of his book. Fifty Shades of Grey started out as Twilight fan fic. Buzzfeed accuses Hunger Games of startling similarities to Battle Royale. An award-winning 17 year-old author is accused of plagiarism and claims there's no originality, only authenticity.
I must confess: I see this as a (somewhat) persuasive argument. There are ideas, and then there is execution. Ten authors could write a book about an orphaned boy who has to battle the man who murdered his parents and we'd get ten completely different books.
I do believe that books can use the same premise and still feel completely different. Look at the Cinderella trope, which might be one of the most tired trope in the history of tropes. Many YA authors have taken that set-up and spun it into stories that feel completely different.
However, lately when I'm reading YA I've been having:
Meaning that I'm reading a new book and start to feel a weird sense of déjà vu. The feeling that I'm reading something that I've read before. Maybe that's because I read so much YA, but I'm not sure that's the reason. It does seem to me like there are a lot of readalike books lately.
While I'm okay with similarities of premise or plot, what I think should be avoided is what I'll call the Single White Female technique:
Have you seen that movie? It's a classic thriller from the 90s. It's about these two girls who are roommates, and one girl starts studying everything the other girl does and tries to become exactly like her. So creepy! (Also note the identical 90s bowl cuts. Yes, your mom was right: bad things happen when you copy what your friends are doing.)
I think an author can go wrong in thinking they can study popular YA and make their book just like those blockbuster books. I understand the desire to study what works, and I think it's a great idea to try to analyze what makes a book successful. But what makes one book a hit rather than a miss can be a mysterious blend of timing and luck. It can also be something that's more elusive: a romantic couple with crazy-good chemistry, an irresistibly witty writing style, or some kind of mysterious secret sauce that can't easily be replicated.
The bottom line for me is too much similarity gets boring. Yes, everything may be a remix, but a talented writer can take the stalest idea on the planet and make it fresh and new again. So bring on the tropes, but remix them with creativity and heart.
What do you think about books with similarities? Hate or love or don't care? Maybe it depends on the trope, because some of them I'm crazy about...